Despite our lavish surroundings here at the Heatley Cliff, I am not a snob and I am certainly not a prude.
When I heard that Fifty Shades of Grey had outsold Harry Potter, I had to finally read for myself what all the fuss was about. I knew that the author, E.L. James, had started this as a sort of spin off Twilight fanfic and so I had a vague idea what I was getting into. As a writer myself, and a great lover of the minutia, my agent and my editor are always cracking the whip (so to say!) about showing my audience rather than telling them. James has no such qualms. She tells and tells and then turns around and tells some more, which grew increasingly tedious. The truth? I didn’t mind the Twilight series. I said I wasn’t a snob! What Stephanie Meyer lacks in technical skill she makes up for in imagination. Are they great works of Art with a capital A? Probably not, but at least they are creative. I’m afraid the same can’t be said for James’ work.
I would even go so far as to say that an even greater suspension of disbelief is required to buy what Fifty Shades is selling than its Twilight muse, vampires and all. We are expected to believe that the most beautiful man on earth is not only a billionaire who employs over 40,000 people, a genius but also under 30. We are also expected to believe that the female lead in the book is pretty but not gorgeous, a virgin, does not own a cell phone, a computer or even have an email account as a 22-year-old college student. When Ana, said “heroine”, admits to Grey that she has never been with a man, the God-like, bondage only protagonist deigns to deflower her. We are lead to believe that this is some sort of favor, as he’s never had ‘vanilla’ sex before, but he’s willing to stoop to her mortal level. Yep, this smart cookie just gave up one of the most precious things she has so that fetish guy can skip to the good stuff.
We are told, explicitly, that he was adopted, he was abused as a child, he doesn’t feel deserving of love and Ana wants, in her words, “to bring him into the light.” Well, that’s an age old story even minus the riding crops. And while we’re on the subject of explicit, let me just say this – I have read far more sensual and sexually explicit material that was FAR more interesting.
But look, hey, good on you E.L James. I mean it. You’ve written a runaway smash success and very few authors can say the same. You have my respect. It’s just, I don’t get it. Why do people love this book so much? What is it that resonates so deeply? I had heard it called Mom Porn over and over again and thought nothing of it, really, but then after doing a bit of musing of my own, I got it. Or rather, I got a working theory. Full disclosure, I wouldn’t call myself a feminist; Camille Paglia I’m not. But I am, however, a mom.
Here are my days: I get up early; I have a 2-year-old. I feed him breakfast. In the school year, I then get my other two up. Let the games begin! Even the ones old enough to dress themselves want to know what to wear, so I tell them. Then I tell them what their schedule is for after school. During the day I am working, writing, making choices about the house, my career, cleaning out the fridge, what to feed everyone. The kids get home and I’m after them to do their homework. I make dinner. They complain a lot. I called this post Do You Want A Spanking? because Christian Grey isn’t the only disciplinarian in town. Sometimes I have to be the bad guy, which I can’t stand but the kids need. I love my husband. I adore him, really. But it would never occur to him to make sure there are always clean sheets on the guest bed or to actually lift something up on the kitchen counter so as to clean under it.
As a mother and a wife, I am responsible for the majority of the details and plans and organizing that make our home run. I am the grown up. Always. And here is where I think that Fifty Shades has so captivated the moms who have read it: Here is some billionaire rich guy. He is going to take over. You don’t have to worry about what to eat, as he provides you with a menu. Clothes? He shops for you. Working out? He gives you a personal trainer. Christian Grey is a control freak (and possibly a sociopath), but for a busy mom who makes a thousand decisions a day, that fantasy of not having to decide anything is seductive, indeed. It sounds crazy, right? I’m a modern woman! Nobody tells me what to do! But it is so hard being a mom, being in charge all the time. You might as well just admit that you’re weak, personality-less, submissive.
Of course, there’s the whole Electra complex thing going on, and various other daddy issues too thrown in for good measure. But I really don’t know how much of the fascination for this book is about the actual sex, which as I said is rough and all, but not that interesting. Grey really doesn’t have that creative of a potty mouth. It’s very much about surrender and the notion that someone is going to look after me for a change. This doesn’t make me weak or submissive, it makes me tired, unappreciated and quite frankly, shackled already. Moms can’t just bail. They can’t just spontaneously decide to go to Paris, or spend a weekend alone with their husbands, not when dinner out feels like a miracle. In the context of their sex life, Ana’s hands are tied, literally. In the context of a full time mom, metaphorically, her hands are always tied with very little of the hot sexy sexy time that Ana seems to enjoy multiple times a day. When it comes down to it, even those younger women who aren’t moms but who are faced with so many choices about who they want to be and where they are going would be drawn on some level to a relationship where the pressure is off. It seems counter-intuitive, Mad Men backwards. But it also harkens back to a time not so long ago when that young woman was taken care of and every decision they made was, in the larger scope of things, trivial. So while I can say that Fifty Shades Of Grey didn’t really speak to me, at least now I think I get why it has been embraced by so many.
If erotica appeals to you as a genre, might I suggest Ann Rice’s Beauty series, or my fave, the ever provocatively beautiful writing of Anais Nin? Truthfully, I find Nora Roberts more of a turn on on that E.L. James, and not nearly as vanilla as you might think.
This week week at the The Heatley Cliff, we aren’t doing much talking about bondage. Sorry. But we are discussing the whiplash lines of Alphonse Mucha and the rise of Art Nouveau. Stimulating indeed!